URBANA — A fundraiser with 20 years of experience at private universities will be the next president of the University of Illinois Foundation.
Thomas Farrell, most recently of the University of Chicago, will replace Sidney Micek, who will continue to serve as the UI Foundation's president and chief executive officer through December.
Farrell, 50, is former vice president for alumni relations and development at the University of Chicago. He will begin his new job at the UI Foundation on Jan. 1.
Foundation board Chairwoman Jane Donaldson said Farrell brings experience from five different schools to the foundation, which plans to launch its largest campaign to date in the next few years. That experience has come in all facets of development work, she added.
Farrell has been successful in designing strategies and running campaigns at the scale the foundation will need — "in the billions," Donaldson said. He knows how to involve all major constituencies — faculty, deans, alumni, staff, administrators — and is well-versed in technology for development work, she said. He's also worked with donors internationally, which will be a key part of the UI's fundraising efforts, she said.
Farrell understands the critical importance of private giving to the UI's growth in coming decades, Donaldson said.
"It's such a momentous time for us," Donaldson said, noting Micek's departure after 12 years as president and CEO. "He's got virtually everything we thought we needed by way of expertise and experience. He's done it in the scale we need to, and he's done it all. I'm excited by the fact that he wants to work in public higher education, and at the University of Illinois."
Farrell said he was attracted by the quality and reputation of the UI, but grew more interested in the job once he visited campus and met President Bob Easter, the three chancellors and foundation board members. He also was impressed by the UI's public mission and "how it related to the opportunity that the position provided."
The goal of providing public access to higher education "resonates with me and connects to my values," said Farrell, whose parents were both educators. The university is well-positioned to help the state and country address some of the country's most pressing challenges, he added.
"The more I think about it, the more excited I am," he said.
Farrell has two degrees from the University of Rochester in New York and a doctorate in higher-education management from the University of Pennsylvania. His mother was a high school English teacher for 27 years, and his father was a college professor and a deputy school superintendent in Rochester.
He began his career in higher-education advancement at the University of Rochester in 1990, eventually becoming director of its reunion major gifts program. He later held leadership positions at the University of Buffalo School of Law, Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he was part of the planning team for its current $3.5 billion campaign.
In 2010, Farrell was named vice president for alumni relations and development at the University of Chicago, overseeing a staff of 450. During his two years there, fundraising jumped by 42 percent.
"Tom's two decades of experience and accomplishments in fundraising for top-tier universities demonstrate a strategic approach and organizational skill set that will continue to advance our development efforts," Easter said in a written statement.
Farrell said the business of charitable giving at public and private institutions isn't markedly different. In both cases, fundraisers must focus on the fundamentals: making the school's case to potential investors and demonstrating how they can make an impact on the institution's future.
Private universities have been in the philanthropy business longer than most public schools, but Illinois has a long tradition, he said, noting the success of the recent $2.4 billion Brilliant Futures campaign. Farrell believes the UI can be more strategic in certain areas, such as corporate and foundation fundraising, and how well it involves alumni in the day-to-day life of the institution.
"I can at least bring a fresh look at the program here," he said. "If this place is going to continue to do what it has done and be as good as it has been, we have to continue to try to connect more aggressively with our external audiences."
The past few years have been challenging for fundraising, he said, but schools like the UI have a strong brand that can withstand economic downturns.
"Uncertainty is not good for philanthropy, but at the same time I think we're pulling out of that," he said, noting that figures on private giving and wider economic indicators are moving upward.
UI officials declined to provide Farrell's salary. The foundation is a nonprofit corporation independent from the university, and none of Farrell's salary comes from state funds, said spokesman Don Kojich.
His compensation is benchmarked against other peer universities, including those in the Big Ten and private institutions, Kojich said.
The foundation's most recent tax forms, from 2011, show Micek earning more than $395,000 annually — a salary of $321,116 plus other compensation of $73,923.
After he steps down as president, Micek will work for the foundation on a part-time basis.